After UN meeting, group calls for calm in south, and for Israelis, Palestinians to remain engaged.
While the fighting in Gaza continued to rage Monday, the Quartet met at the UN, expressed “concern” at the violence, and — regarding the diplomatic process — called on the Israelis and Palestinian to “remain engaged” and “refrain from provocative actions.” The term “provocative action” is generally Quartet code for settlement construction.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and UN Secretary-General ban Ki-moon meet at the UN headquarters, joined via a video-hook up by the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and Quartet envoy Tony Blair.
This was the first Quartet meeting at this level since September 23, when the same officials met at the UN following Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ statehood bid and issued a statement outlining a framework for returning to talks. That framework called for an initial meeting between the two sides within 30 days, leading to the trading of comprehensive proposals on security and territory within three months, and an overall agreement by the end of 2012.
Since that time, lower-level Quartet envoys have met a number of times, and low level Israeli-Palestinian talks began in January in Jordan. The last Israeli-Palestinian meeting in Jordan was held at the end of January.
Since then the Palestinians have said they would not renew talks unless Israel freezes settlement construction, agrees to start negotiations with a return to the 1967 lines as the baseline, and is willing to release some Fatah prisoners.
Israel has said it is willing to renew the talks without pre-conditions, but that if Hamas joins the Palestinian Authority government, as was being discussed last month during the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks, Israel would cut off negotiations.
Obviously reflecting differences inside the Quartet – with Russia wanting the group to be much more assertive – the statement it issued Monday was notably bland.
According to the statement, the meeting represented “informal consultations” to assess the developments since the September 23 Quartet statement.
“Quartet Principals remain committed to the overall objectives of the [September 23] statement,” the latest communiqué read. “In this regard, they welcome the important effort led by Jordan, which began in early January, as part of the shared commitment to reach a negotiated agreement by the end of this year.
“The Quartet also discussed the grave situation in Gaza and southern Israel, expressed serious concern for the recent escalation and called for calm,” the statement continued. “The Quartet reiterates its call on the parties to remain engaged and to refrain from provocative actions.” Another meeting of the Quartet is schedule for Washington in April.
In her remarks at the UN, Clinton offered stronger criticism of the attacks on Israel, but also urged restraint on both sides.
“Let me also condemn in the strongest terms the rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel which continued over the weekend,” she said. “We call on those responsible to take immediate action to stop these attacks. We call on both sides – all sides – to make every effort to restore calm.”
Another meeting of the Quartet is schedule for Washington in April.
By HERB KEINON AND HILARY LEILA KREIGER
Photo By REUTERS/ERIC THAYER